Three more European pearls: Germany, Switzerland and Italy
Parth has a wonderful family and his wife (with the strikingly beautiful face) is a spectacular cook. We weren't exactly chewing bratwurst. I love the Indian kitchen which can be a lot of different things depending on where you are in India. The entire family is lovely and Parth's mother even sketched a few drawings of me. Parth and I slept in the living room talking until 02:00am in the morning. It's great to see a familiar face and I've been fortunate to see a few lately. Now that Sarthi has been infected with the "travelers bug" I feel that my job is done and I can continue to Switzerland. Or will she grow up to be a Danish rapper?
Amruta made this drawing of me :)
The following morning I boarded a train via Hannover to Zurich in Switzerland. I originally intended on going to Bern however hostel prices were sky high!! One "hostel" offered a night for usd 125?! Another could spare a bed in a 6 person dorm room for usd 40?!? As it turned out my friend Michele, who's Italian, lives in Zurich (and Italy). Really practical for me and he was texting me: "so when are you coming to Zurich?" If you've been following the Saga for a while, you might remember that Michele (Micky) and I met in Djibouti. The story is that we were both in the same Swiss newspaper. Me for the Saga and Micky for "selfie-filming" himself in his Italian village with a wild bear in the back!! Yup! Micky is kind of adventurous ;) He read about the Saga and contacted me since we both happened to be in Djibouti. Later on we met in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Micky was the one who inspired me to "take you all" to Danakil and see the incredible landscapes that northern Ethiopia features.
Micky is also into drones. Drones are cool! :)
I warned Micky that I was getting sick and that I really needed to rest for a day or two. No problem! He made his home my home. It was great to see him again! Micky currently works as an electrician in Zurich but his true passion is travel. The money needs to come from somewhere. My health was rapidly deteriorating and I'm almost sure that it is entirely because I'm coming from several months of temperatures above 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) to a solid north European summer of 17 degrees (62 Fahrenheit) and rain. And possibly also for pushing myself too hard again.
Michele "Micky" "Tourist? No! Traveler!" ;)
Micky's parents live nearby his apartment and dinner was waiting for us the night my train rolled into Zurich. He has really nice parents. His father is kind of quiet and makes great homemade pasta. His mother is a typical mother who was exited to have Micky and I at the table and enough was never enough, when it came to poring food on our plates. Lovely and very filling.
Not exactly at the top of my game. It's worst at night when I cough so hard I get headaches.
Zurich became my base as I soon had to keep my appointment with the Swiss Red Cross in Bern. What a wonderful bunch of people! I had a good time although I was still struggling with a cough and a stuffed nose. At least my headache was gone. The Swiss Red Cross is (not unlike the Red Cross in many countries) very impressive. They do all the usual stuff you normally associate the Red Cross with but plenty of other things. As an example they educate and hand out certificates to teenage babysitters so the parents know that they can care for their children (change a diaper, first aid etc). In the other end of the scale the Swiss Red Cross also operates a fleet of search and rescue helicopters, airplanes and 35 highly professional search dog teams! Yup! That's the Red Cross too. And it's impressive.
Oh Swiss Alps!! :)
I had a chance to do an hour long presentation about the Saga which captivated about 25 employees/volunteers. It was a bit funny for me because I'm rarely asked to do so at the Red Cross. The last time was in Kenya. It was really nice but really stupid because it drained me from energy and I got a lot sicker after that. But first we went to visit a building in Bern where the Red Cross welcomes refugees for a 6 month transitional period in order to immigrating them well. I don't know if you think I'm tough or I'm weak? But the following literally makes me cry: the boys and girls were playing outside in the garden as children do. A beautiful young mother from Syria was cooking something smelling really nice. Her smiling husband appeared and insisted on us (I was guided by Alja from the Swiss RC) having tea. Together Alja, the wife, the husband, their two children and I had a good time in their room. We were translating our conversation through google translate and through whatever little Arabic I know. Most of it was lighthearted but we also spoke about how they fled their home in Syria. Literally running from the bombs with their little daughter and the wife who was still pregnant back then with the second one. That doesn't make me cry. I hear stories like that all the time.
What does push my tears out comes now. They initially escaped through Jordan and Egypt to Libya. They were offered to cross the Mediterranean on a boat but opted out and returned (over several years) across Egypt and Jordan until they finally were granted asylum and flew to Switzerland. Do you remember my visit to Libya? I'll still spare you the graphic details of the 5 dead bodies I found on the beach. What makes my tears flow is that the horrendous image I still have in my head could have been this family. We were having tea...but it could have been them. Mother, father and two happy girls playing in the garden. They didn't get on that boat. It wasn't them. It could have been.
Does that mean I'm not intelligent...or that intelligence is not seen as important? Oh! My head hurts ;)
I had a great time presenting the Saga to the Maersk team in Switzerland. Just look at those smiles! www.maerskline.com
A few more days passed on with me in Zurich before I caught a train to Geneva (also Switzerland) where the International Federation of the Red Cross has its headquarters. The Red Cross was founded in Switzerland in 1863. I had a meeting with communication and coughed my way through most of it. At this point my health was improving but my cough was nasty. I probably scared them a bit :) 3 more trains for me to Milano in Italy. An overnight train got me back to Rome for the first time since 2013.
Those Italians!!! This is just a train station!!! Come on!! ;)
Rome is a splendid city. Not like the rest! Rome stands out from other cities. It was once the seat of the Roman Empire. We all know that. However it kept developing and today it's home to more than 5 million people! Rome is more like a country than a city in terms of its diversity. 5 million people? That's nearly my entire country right there.
I arrived early at Rome's train station and made my way to a hotel my friend Kuno has booked. He's arriving from Copenhagen (Denmark) tonight to spend a few days keeping me company. This is great as we have known each other for many years but haven't seen each other since I left home. It was nice to be able to check into the hotel early. A great hotel at a great location near the Vatican. I had a shower and really wanted to sleep.
Sometime the cover doesn't match the book...at all!! (the main entrance to Italian Red Cross HQ).
However I had an 11:30am appointment with the Italian Red Cross. Italy concludes the "revisit tour of Europe" which I will rate as successful. Especially the Red Cross, the Maersk Line and the seeing friends part of the tour. In terms of logistics I nailed it! I kept the exact schedule I had laid out and informed about. The Red Cross has been very accommodating throughout these 8 countries and it has restored my belief in that the Saga is actually achieving something important in that regard. I'm unsure if it's inappropriate to mention however I've had serious doubts about having the Red Cross as a part of this project. It's a lot of work on my part and I receive relatively little motivation to keep it going. The Red Cross has a complex structure which involves highly independent National Societies. It's not like Coca Cola or any other international cooperation which are streamlined to operate similarly. No the Red Cross and Red Crescent's across the world are perfectly adapted to their individual countries in regards to language, culture and customs. Naturally there are fundamental principles which are shared among all of them, and there is international cooperation where it counts. However if I visit the Red Cross in France and continue to Germany, there is very little chance that the Red Cross in Germany will know that I was in France. You'd think that once a man visits the Red Cross Red Crescent across more than a hundred countries, it would start to spread? It doesn't work like that. Every country is highly independent and crossing a border is mostly like hitting a reset button. It's like reliving the same day over and over again. Try doing that since 2013 across 131 countries and see how you feel? The point of telling you this is however uplifting! Because the Italian Red Cross brought it home today. What a wonderful engagement on their part. They may be best known for responding to recent earthquakes and the 181,436 refugees and migrants that made it across the Mediterranean last year. However as Pietro Concina (Italian Red Cross communication director) rightfully pointed out: "There's all the work they carry out in the spotlight and then all that goes on out of the spotlight". I really think this is what people fail to understand about the Red Cross. It's not just a humanitarian organization which has some humanitarian impact. It is the largest in the world and its reach and effect is unparalleled! I'm a capitalist. I've always been a capitalist and I'll be a capitalist when I go home. I usually gun for whichever job pays me the most and furthers my career. The Saga has had me rethink a lot of stuff. I'm not much of a humanitarian but I do believe in the Red Cross and I wouldn't want to live in a world without it. For better or for worse.
You can take a million pictures or more like this..."when in Rome".
That's where I'll end this one. In the land of pasta, fast cars, beautiful women, over-excessive amounts of culture, fidget spinners and Game of Thrones...and 156,000 Red Cross volunteers who spent 15 million hours in 2016 helping the vulnerable. Including those who made it across the Mediterranean and didn't wash up on the shores of Libya's perfect white sand beaches pushed by azure blue waves...
No way I'll leave you there!! I'll leave you here: I've seen a lot of this world!! I guarantee you that this world is a thousand times better than portrayed in the media and while imperfect it's mostly a place of good hearted, well meaning people. A stranger is a friend you've never met before! :)
My promised bed for a night in the Vatican has been ripped away beneath my feet just a few weeks ago. Change of policy. So if you have ANY connections which will get me 24 hours inside the Vatican: Don't be shy. Please let me know :).